Patrick Burke

On November 29 2022, 55 years of Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) history closed after its members controversially voted to disband the organisation.

GAISF's identity had been subject to much fluidity, but one of the arguments for its dissolution and transferring its assets to SportAccord had been avoiding duplication with other organisations within the alphabet soup, such as the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations, Association of International Olympic Committee Recognised International Sport Federation and Alliance of Independent Recognised Members of Sport.

Or ASOIF, AIOWF, ARISF and AIMS respectively if you prefer. A lot of letters.

Yet at its peak GAISF offered non-Olympic federations a seat at the top table in sport, and critics saw its dissolution as a move which weakened their position and amounted to a power grab from the IOC.

For governing bodies such as the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF), the impact of the end of GAISF was to shift the goalposts in its efforts to secure wider international recognition, and a setback for an organisation that had been optimistic it could be third time lucky in an application for membership of the umbrella body, which had been hampered by World Taekwondo - which formed in 1973 after splitting from the ITF - being recognised as the governing body for taekwondo at the Olympics and a member of ASOIF.

Secretary general Tadeusz Łoboda shared how the first attempt to join GAISF had been doomed because the organisation was led by World Taekwondo President Kim Un-yong, who was less than receptive to the application.

A second application faltered when SportAccord President Marius Vizer launched a scathing attack on the IOC and President Thomas Bach which led to turmoil at GAISF as almost all of its members resigned. Some have traced GAISF's downfall back to that infamous speech from the International Judo Federation President in Sochi.

Łoboda said the ITF believed it had "really fulfilled the requirements" including recognition by Governments in at least 40 countries, Continental Federations registered in at least three areas and the creation of an Athletes' Committee.

This had required "a lot of work and a lot of action". But then, GAISF was dissolved.

The umbrella Global Association of International Sports Federations dissolved last year which some fear weakens federations of non-Olympic sports ©GAISF
The umbrella Global Association of International Sports Federations dissolved last year which some fear weakens federations of non-Olympic sports ©GAISF

It was tough not to feel for Łoboda and the ITF as he shared its experience, but to his credit he is not deterred, and the governing body has opted to "change strategy" as it turned its attention to a bid to join AIMS.

This would be an important step towards realising ambitions to feature at the World Games and securing Government recognition in more countries to develop ITF taekwon-do. Yet the latter benefit brings a chicken and egg scenario - umbrella bodies want Government recognition in member countries, but Governments want the ITF to receive wider recognition from the international sport movement.

The elephant in the room remains World Taekwondo's (WT) established profile in the Olympic Movement.

Łoboda insists the two governing bodies are sufficiently different to justify AIMS membership for the ITF.

"Three times we sent an application [to GAISF] and we received many compliments, but they said because of WT it is not possible to recognise two federations for the same sport," the Polish official told insidethegames.

"Nobody has the chance to see our sport. WT has a similar name, but we are different. We are quadrathlon, meaning four divisions - jumping, pattern, fighting and power breaking. We have the same roots, but the split was very long ago in 1973."

Previous attempts to bridge differences between the two bodies have enjoyed at best mixed success, and difficulties have been compounded by splits in the ITF following the death of founder Choi Hong-hi in 2002.

However, Łoboda stressed all options would be on the table in mediation attempts with World Taekwondo.

"We try to be recognised sport, because this is key to many countries to secure recognition and support of Government. This is what happened with kickboxing - after recognition from ARISF, it grew up very fast," he added.

"This is our main goal to be a recognised sport, or also try to negotiate WT - you are taekwondo, we are taekwondo, maybe we create an umbrella even under you.

"For us it is not necessary to go to the Olympics, but we could get recognition - you could be Olympic, we are non-Olympic.

"In wrestling for example, they have several disciplines, why not do it with taekwondo?"

Re-elected ITF President Paul Weiler has insisted
Re-elected ITF President Paul Weiler has insisted "the goal remains the same" for international recognition despite the dissolution of GAISF ©ITG

Pursuing wider recognition from international sports bodies remains a key priority of the ITF. Łoboda was hopeful it could be achieved within the mandate of the current Board which was elected here in Tampere at the Congress until 2027.

"Of course, it will be good in the next two years if taekwon-do is recognised, but if we need to wait three or four years, we will be waiting," he said.

It formed part of President Paul Weiler's presentation outlining the vision of himself, Canada's Clint Norman as senior vice-president, Belgium's Annick van Driessche as vice-president and Israel's Leonardo Oros Duek as treasurer which was elected on a closed ticket.

Despite GAISF's dissolution, he remains firmly driven towards securing recognition for the ITF.

"It changed a little bit the point of view, but the goal remains the same," the German official told insidethegames.

"So we want to have the recognition and cooperation with international umbrella organisations like AIMS. We are in connection with other organisations to find out if we can find a way to cooperate or work together, and this will be one of the main goals.

"We have to establish another Committee for this task, but we are very positive that we can achieve one of these goals."

Weiler is also hopeful of discussions with World Taekwondo to further this goal.

The ITF World Championships enjoyed a successful return in the Finnish city of Tampere ©ITF
The ITF World Championships enjoyed a successful return in the Finnish city of Tampere ©ITF

"From my point of view, yes. The martial art is not a problem at all. The sport part is different because WT and ITF have different systems, different categories. When we look at the homeland, South Korea, I see also from the history there is a chance if we can cooperate on a friendly basis with WT for the best interests of the sports people," he said.

It is a novelty when things are straight-forward in sport. Both on and off the field of play. The ITF is working its way through the maze of international sports politics, but led by Weiler it has a leadership team determined to achieve its goals.

Weiler's first term as President faced some disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic which he admitted required something of a "restart" in terms of working towards its goals.

However, its first World Championships since Tampere 2019 can only be viewed as a resounding success. More than 1,100 athletes from 60 countries participated, the stands were filled each day with spectators whether fellow competitors, family members, officials or supporters. 

The atmosphere was a welcoming one for all participants, impressive viewing figures for YouTube live streams including more than 140,000 on the first day have been recorded, and overall there was an upbeat buzz around the Tampere Exhibition and Sports Centre.

Things may rarely be simple in sport, but the Finnish organisers did a splendid job in delivering a World Championships which ran as smoothly as any event I have attended. The venue was excellent with catering facilities for all, training space and a well-laid out competition hall. 

Transport ran perfectly, and the big plus of free public transport with accreditation or tickets - something I have a personal big stickler and advocate for.

I could have written a separate blog on how I have fallen in love with the beauty of Finland with its lakes, forests, fresh weather and sunsets and the city of Tampere, which includes among its claims to fame the most public saunas globally, one of the last remaining museums dedicated to Russian revolutionary and Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin on the site where he met his successor Joseph Stalin for the first time and a proven host of ice hockey events including World Championships.

For now, I will leave Finland tomorrow having enjoyed what was a superb event, witnessed the practical impacts of GAISF's dissolution on aspiring federations and more informed about an ITF which appears to be on the right path.